David Bowie and Hylda Payne

“Look up here, I’m in heaven…”

It’s Friday 8th January 2016. David Bowie is 69. Hylda Payne is 84. They share a birthday. A few days pass and other common threads reveal themselves.

I wrote this on my Instagram feed the morning I wake to the shock of David Bowie’s death: ‘I think many people believe I possess a questionable sense of humour, at the best of times. But, I don’t know, sometimes my humour can go where even angels fear to tread. And you can find laughter in darkness. I have a family friend who I’ve known for more than 30 years; she’s dying of cancer; initially liver but now significantly metastasized and told last week she might have weeks not months. She was finally at peace with the diagnosis, both relieved at having had a very good reason for feeling so lousy recently but also content that she’s had a good life. 

Hylda Payne : 84th Birthday : The nurses brought in cake!

It was her birthday on Friday [the same as David Bowie!]. There was much fun and laughter on the ward … and many tears; not from her, she kept up the laughter. 

She’s still doing pretty well; the pain is being managed. I glance at my watch as my wife leaves for a visit “Tell her she might not want to hang about. She could be on the same coach as Bowie!”

I last saw Hylda on Friday [15th January] afternoon. She’d been granted her wish a couple of days earlier and been moved to an end-of-life bed in a beautiful care facility run by St Monica Trust.

It was just Hylda and I, revisiting old memories and laying down some new. Her infamous smile, laugh and notoriously expressive face were never more than a moment away. As I went to leave she puckered up. I don’t think I’ve ever kissed an 84-year-old woman on the lips before. “No tongues!” I said sternly. “And I don’t want to hear you’ve been running up and down the ward as soon as I’m gone either.” As last words go they’re not exactly up there with the most memorable, but I’ll cherish that final memory and that look upon her face.

Hylda went downhill surprisingly quickly the following day. And at about 12:40am on Monday 18th January she slipped quietly away surrounded by her daughter, two granddaughters and my wife, Sue. ‘Her skin went pale, like porcelain, and as her final breath rose to her mouth she opened her eyes briefly before gently closing them again … and was gone. It was so peaceful.’

A fittingly beautiful end for a beautiful soul. And typically of Hylda she had captured the hearts of the nursing and care staff at Garden House in just a few days, as she had done from her admission to the Bristol Royal Infirmary on New Years Day. It essentially speaks volumes for the cheeky, warm personality it’s been a pleasure to have known for 34 years.

Hylda Payne 1932-2016 RIP.

It’s been a curious symbiosis, of sorts, living through the infamous Hylda’s passing alongside that of the slightly more famous David Bowie. We are all so human, so fragile. The world keeps spinning and you’re left caught in this limbo state and the sense that our time here on earth is so relatively fleeting; specks of stardust, we come and we go.

I would never have classed myself as a huge Bowie fan – let’s say he didn’t always take me with him. [Although Heroes is one of my absolute favourite songs by anyone.] But as an artist and a creative he’s had nothing but my complete admiration. And witnessing the release of the Lazarus video early last week [and that extraordinarily apt opening line: “Look up here, I’m in heaven…”] … not only will it live in my memory forever as a testament to his genius right until the end, like Hylda, it serves as a reminder to not waste time: the end will come and there will never be enough.

In his passing the Lazarus video is as compelling as it is mesmerising in its potential symbolism. And there’s that moment at about 2’45” …



…where the pace has quickened and he grabs his pen. He begins to write animatedly. Ideas and thoughts begin to pour onto the page … I’ve so much more to say, so much more to do … until the moment is snatched from him by time; the pen trails off and down the face of the desk. And he’s gone. You’re gone.

Perhaps Bowie offered a final salutary warning, a potential gift to those of us left behind. There will never be enough time … get busy with living.

Where are we now?
Where are we now?
The moment you know
You know, you know

As long as there’s sun
As long as there’s sun
As long as there’s rain
As long as there’s rain
As long as there’s fire
As long as there’s fire
As long as there’s me
As long as there’s you

David Bowie. 8th January 1947 – 2016

Hylda Payne. 8th January 1932 – 2016

The Calendar : 2016 : Final Update

G’day folks. The final post and the final day of bidding for The Auction of my 2016 calendar of street photography with, as I write, approximately 36 hours of time remaining to make a bid…


The Calendar 2016 Jul-Dec
Images July-December


Note: You can see the images for January-June here.

Just a reminder that there will be just ONE of these objects circulating in the proverbial wild and will probably set to become one of the most collectible objects since a car made from cheese was bought by an obsessive cheese enthusiast. [Although, in a moment of weakness, I understand he subsequently ate his investment.]

I will be posting any relevant updates on the bidding process at the foot of this post and via Instagram, Flickr, F*c*book and Twitter. You can make bids in any location or via email and text and I will keep all locations up to date with the prevailing highest bid.

I propose to end bidding at 11:59pm GMT on 21st December and will ship the calendar with its heartfelt personal message the following day – hopefully this should ensure delivery by the New Year anywhere in the world.


Current Highest Bid: US $150

[Approx. conversion: Euros 138 and UKP 101]

[Bid by Christa in AmericaNote: If you’d rather not have your name publicly announced with any bid please let me know.]

The World’s Greatest Democracy

The world’s greatest democracy has a cancer. It’s pathology is found in disenfranchised folk with an easy access to heavy artillery. And yet the glib constitutional righteousness remains.


Behind The Curtains


Paris would’ve been much different had the victims been carrying guns, opined Donald Trump, in one of his latest tender soundbites. While conveniently ignoring the almost weekly mass shootings on the streets of America. But will a manic right wing agenda make people feel any safer? Not when you put arms into the hands of the disenfranchised and they’re tipped over their edge.

Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail vehemently eschew the rights of women to have access to abortion; a man picks up a gun in Colorado and shoots. The tipping point appeared minimal; the result is more lives lost through an intolerance readily espoused as right.

Was that a terrorist attack in California? It’s premature to reach full conclusions – although one look at the surnames and copies of the Quran will undoubtedly guarantee knee-jerk headlines. But in a country where black lives are still persecuted and a potential presidential candidate readily falsifies a memory of Muslims dancing in the streets of New Jersey at the fall of the Twin Towers; suggests closing the borders to all Syrian refugees; and having a national database of Muslims [in a rather eerie parallel to a certain Nazi philosophy!]. A leading Republican presidential candidate.  It makes you wonder.

Intolerance breeds tipping points. And then puts guns into the hands of the disenfranchised. Gun control feels increasingly like an important moral agenda. But at the same time feels like an attempt to desalinate the entire world’s seas. The world’s greatest democracy [self-titled grandiose epithet] has potentially shot itself in both feet.




Exposure can be a fine line in modern media and in the wider art world. Underexposure; and your world remains conspicuously quiet like a church mouse with laryngitis. Overexposure; and the world’s your oyster … if I could just get the damned thing open! And an antihistamine for my seafood allergy. Or, failing that … a pram, some toys and a good throwing arm.

The Sublime Meets The Ridiculous

The highlight of my photography year was undoubtedly having an image curated for the Mobile Photo Now exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art [CMA] in Ohio, USA. The exhibition itself proved to be critically well received and presented a significant step forward for the medium and appreciation of photography as an art form. The exhibition, co-curated by CMA and #JJ community on Instagram, featured 320 images from 240 photographers representing nearly 40 different countries.

Overexposed : The Tsunami Effect

Only this week I had another image prominently highlighted within the #JJ community.




The image is one I took of my father for the project: The Anatomy Of A Stroke. It clearly made an impact in the daily #JJ community theme: Profiles. More than 4,000 images were submitted, with 188 selected by the army of community editors. Just 4 were then selected by Josh Johnson himself and posted under the main #JJ community hash-tag.


In posting Josh added “What a powerful and gripping image Will [Gortoa, my IG pseudonym]. I’ll just leave it at that. Anything else I write feels ridiculous. Thank you so much for sharing this.”


As you might notice by the numbers at the top of that image, the #JJ community has 636,000 followers and for a few hours my church mouse stream went atomic-powered church organ! Well, all things are relative.

Within 24 hours – and an increase in my own followers of about 50 – things returned to … ruined church at the head of the dusty high street in a desert town with no name. Cue tumbleweed! But it was fun while it lasted: watching my notifications window spinning like a Vegas jackpot machine … the modern day social media phenomenon that quickly becomes yesterday’s news [or a quick whack with the Like icon and onto the next Warhol].

Underexposed : The Pram

I also recently entered an image for consideration in the Royal West of England Academy’s 163rd Annual Open Exhibition. As it openly boasts “…[it attracts] leading artists from throughout the UK, it is open to all, and often includes work by unknown exhibitors alongside well-known names.” The selection process is notoriously … robust. And photography invariably maintains quite a low profile in the final selection. I was absolutely delighted to have The Falling Leaf curated for the 160th exhibition in 2012.

This year I was determined to go with a street photography image. I was pleased to get it through the initial online selection process, before mounting, framing and crossing fingers for the final selection. The subsequent email duly arrived … Selected! I do believe I may’ve done a moderate dancing movement – for anyone who knows me, they’ll know that’s quite significant.

But then something really quite cruel happened. I was to discover another category that I didn’t even know existed …



Just a few days before the exhibition was due to open, I received another email from the RWA with revised wording: Artist Selected Not Hung. Essentially this meant that the final curation essentially lies at the hands of the hanging team. But all is not lost … because in three panels placed around the exhibition is your name – effectively hung and displayed for all to see. And quite possibly point and laugh.

Well, I laughed. But when I returned downstairs another artist had brought in a pram containing a large number of toys and began hurling them out in quite dramatic fashion.

Exposure. Whatever the outcome, I think you should probably keep your dignity and modesty covered.





Dreaming Of Escape

Birds are the epitome of the migratory species; nature’s natural refugees. They wait. They watch. They fly. They are … free.


Dreaming Of Escape I

And then they left …

Dreaming Of Escape II
Dreaming Of Escape II

I wonder where the world might be without politics or, dare I even suggest, intolerance. I see petty squabbles in school playground politics daily. I see the same petty squabbles – with considerably wider consequences – in international politics; essentially these are just older people who you would hope should really know better. The Russians weren’t involved in bringing down an Australian passenger airliner… because they weren’t in Ukraine. And when a Russian airliner is brought down, their foreign minister’s first reaction to the UK stopping flights to Egypt ‘They’re only doing that because they don’t agree with what we’re doing in Syria…’ Barely a day later and Russia had stopped flights, too; but the most important thing, let’s get the petty international knee-jerk political response in first.

Rinse and repeat; until, one day, there’s nowhere left to fly. Unless you’re a bird.

Dreaming Of Escape III
Dreaming Of Escape III

The gates of Europe are creaking. This is the modern world; a mixture of tragedy, aspiration and access to social media. Immigration has become a broadly contentious issue in the European Union [EU] because its open borders policy toward freedom of movement and work opportunities generally only runs one way: in simple terms, east to west. And then the refugee crisis began in Syria. And following one notable, widely reported, tragic death of a little boy drowned in the Mediterranean igniting consciences throughout the EU [in Germany the people were quick to make Welcome banners] … tragedy and aspiration truly combined.

People are now arriving from Iraq, Iran, Eritrea, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other non-EU European states … the list is almost endless. And the vast majority are heading to … western Europe. And one of the most popular destinations is Sweden. Tragedy or aspiration is well-informed in the modern world. Any reasonably educated search of the Internet will tell you Sweden is an alleged utopia. In the past two weeks alone 18,000 migrants have arrived in Sweden. It’s unsustainable. [Update: Just a few hours after writing this Sweden introduced a ‘temporary’ border control in an attempt to stem the flow of migrants entering the country. Bearing in mind the numbers have increased exponentially, if the present number arriving were maintained at this level for a year it would equate to 5% of Sweden’s population!] 

The gates of Europe are creaking. Welcome to the modern, already overpopulated world. And now we have begun to migrate in unprecedented numbers.



Also, since writing this, I heard another story in the week about a Syrian refugee. He had been interviewed on BBC Radio 5Live after arriving in Slovenia. In joyful broken English he told how he was heading for Germany ‘Angela Merkel is our [refugees] mother…’ he exclaimed. He repeated it joyously again. A few weeks later the 5Live team had tracked him down … in Sweden. He was disillusioned following his arrival in Germany. It hadn’t been as he’d expected; not understanding the language he moved on to the alternative utopia, Sweden. And, here again, he was disillusioned – provided with temporary accommodation in a village in the back of beyond and separated from his traveling companions and a family member who had arrived before. Somehow I sense this is only one story of what we likely become commonly held experiences.

The social media and its associated connectivity may’ve been alive with Leave and Come now messages back down the line. But the messages of lingering disillusionment and reality of migration will likely be very different. Migrants at The Jungle encampment in Calais wait to cross the channel “We will be given a house, a job, a car,” said one; seemingly oblivious to the fact that even Londoners are finding it increasingly difficult to live in London; and presumably equally oblivious to the 7,500 homeless living on its streets in 2014/15.

“Everyone deserves a better life.” With this level of migration, the likely reality promises to be something quite different.